Latte Nation

Straight Shots

Modern Drunkard Magazine takes aim at Puritans, busybodies, and non-alcoholic beer.

By 5.28.03

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Your humble correspondent cleared out last Wednesday for an early Memorial Day weekend vacation and headed down I-5 in the recently revived '91 Sunbird. A day and a night in Seattle, then I drove to a youth hostel/art gallery/all ages rock club in Anacortes -- run by a few (mostly) reformed commie friends from my alma mater -- and parked it there for a few days. Though the laptop stayed behind, this wasn't a strictly non-working vacation. I met with a playwright future profilee, read through Ray Bradbury's wretched new novel, and brought a stack of Modern Drunkard magazines along for the ride. Never let it be said that this column isn't road tested.

Given the self-help literature on the subject, it was fun to see denial was the first reaction most people had when they saw Modern Drunkard. Several asked if this was some sort of elaborate joke. With cover lines such as "The Lost Art of Staggering," "How to Beat an Intervention," and "In Defense of Dionysus," along with the long-running Dead Celebrity Drink Off contest, I could understand their disbelief.

But readers soon learned that, though they are usually happy drunks, the staff of Modern Drunkard Magazine are dead serious about their booze. In fact, that they were denied entry to the Absolut Vodka party at this year's Bar and Nightclub Convention. Shown the door on the hilarious grounds that they were promoting drunkenness, the Drunkards retaliated by passing out hundreds of copies to people going into the melee. Though the guards tried to confiscate the issues, they finally gave up "when a growing group of hasslees started wondering why the literature they were carrying was any of Absolut's business."

This orneriness -- this refusal to be cowed by convention or moderation -- is one of the things that makes this magazine so fascinating. When the Drunkards give readers tips on how to beat an intervention, or take aim at the latest anti-alcohol "propaganda," or enlist the lubricious exuberance of some of America's founders ("dedicated, rampant boozers") in the service of tying one on, they are merrily trampling on all sorts of cherished American taboos.

And they have a point: anti-prohibitionists won the war over legal boozing, but you'd hardly know it from the kind of reactions this magazine provokes, or the general moral fervors that alcohol usage is capable of producing. In his old "Hill of Beans" column, frequent globetrotter Christopher Caldwell wrote that absolutist U.S. laws against underage drinking were one of the two things that he couldn't convince foreigners were true of his own country (the other, strangely enough, was partial birth abortion).

"There are no customs on Earth more bizarre than America's alcohol laws," Caldwell wrote. "When you think of them, think of suttee, foot-binding, and ritual scarification." It's almost as if the price of breaking prohibition was that everyone would try very hard to make alcohol use as miserable as possible.

Of this year's Great American Beer Festival (where the magazine was denied press credentials), Modern Drunkard editor Frank Kelly Rich opined that the festival "is how we Americans, as a conquered people would have been forced to drink beer had the Third Reich won the war." People dutifully forked out the $40 entry fee in exchange for "a plastic cup and the right to stand in line to receive a one ounce ration of beer at a time."

Though this column's drug of choice is more caffeinated and less demanding than Rich's, even I could feel his pain.

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About the Author
Jeremy Lott is an editor of rare.us.